The 40th yahrzeit of Abe Stark, who died at 77 in July 1972, is almost upon us.
Those of you who remember Ebbets Field, abandoned by the Dodgers in 1957, can recall the Abe Stark sign on the bottom of the scoreboard embedded in the right field wall.
The sign, only three feet high and 30 feet long, which read: “Hit Sign, Win Suit,” was the most famous stadium ad in baseball history. It made Abe’s establishment at 1514 Pitkin Avenue known around the country.
The ballpark, bordered by the right field wall on Bedford Avenue, the double decked-stands in front of Montgomery Street (behind left field), Sullivan Place (behind first base), and McKeever Place (on the third base side), was the most famous location in Brooklyn.
The area was a hub of mass transit. Fans arrived via bus lines on nearby streets: Flatbush Avenue, Reid Avenue and Empire Boulevard. Fans poured out of the IRT subway stop only two and a half blocks away, and the closer Prospect BMT subway station a block and a half from the park.
Bedford Avenue limited the capacity of Ebbets Field, as it was only 297 feet down the right field line to the high wall of almost 20 feet, topped by another 20 feet of screen to protect pedestrians and cars.
The cozy little ballpark had seating for about 32,000, but at times fans couldn’t even find a place to stand. Some 37,512 paid their way in on August 30, 1947, to see the hated rival Giants take on their favorites in Jackie Robinson’s first year as a Dodger, which set the all-time Brooklyn franchise record for a single game.
Whether you sat or stood, you saw the Abe Stark sign and may still remember the address of the store on Pitkin Avenue. Most of all, though, you remember the name Abe Stark.
Stark was born in 1895. He saw the transformation from horse and buggy to the automobile. He opened his first clothing store in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn years before he ever heard a radio program. He was in his 30s before movies could talk.
Stark himself was a good talker and entered politics in the mid-1940s. In 1953, when many Americans were buying their first television set, Stark was elected president of the New York City Council.
Abe stayed in the position until 1961, when the Yankees of Mantle and Maris were the only game in town as the Dodgers and Giants were in their fourth year on the West Coast. Stark then went on to win three terms as borough president of Brooklyn and got to see men land on the moon via television in 1969.
Stark was involved in many Brooklyn charities and was the founder of Abe Stark Philanthropies and the Abe Stark Hillel Foundation at Brooklyn College.
As much as he loved Brooklyn, Stark opted for retirement in the sunshine and warmth of West Palm Beach, Florida, where he died.
While Abe Stark’s sign is fondly remembered by the older generation of baseball fans, another Ebbets Field sign heralding a soap company generated the most laughs.
That sign, which covered a section of the right field wall from ground upward to screen, read: “The Dodgers Use Lifebuoy.” Sometime one summer night during a Dodgers losing streak, at least one disgruntled fan got into Ebbets Field and, armed with some paint and a brush, added a few words at the bottom of the sign.
The altered sign read: “The Dodgers Use Lifebuoy, and they still stink.”
Author, columnist and speaker Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years before working in a major league front office earning a World Series ring. The president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul may be reached in his dugout at email@example.com.